Mark Hughes' whispering menace will jolt Southampton into lifeby Andy Dillon / 23 March 2018, 12:35Tweet
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH famously sounded the clarion call for the mumbling classes with his famous speech when leader of the Conservative party.
He warned then PM Tony Blair that the ‘quiet man is here and is turning up the volume’.
In many ways Southampton Football Club have become the Iain Duncan Smith of English football. Claude Puel and Maunuel Pellegrino would still struggle to be heard in the Whispering Gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The latest incumbent of the office of first team coach at Saints is Mark Hughes – a softly spoken Welshman who doesn’t feel the need to shout.
It now seems part of the job requirements at St.Mary’s that to become manager you must never have shouted abover 30 decibels. And frankly, it is getting a bit silly.
Football clubs and their teams reflect the personalities of their managers. Under Puel and Pellegrino Southampton were slipping away with barely a whimper.
The football was dull, the atmosphere at home games insipid, the vibe behind the whole cause flatlining.
And all the time, a proud club with plenty to shout about was content to sit back and flog its best players, some of whom had come through the youth team ranks at the academy.
Fans love home-grown players, especially in England where they are few and far between.
They make up songs about them and cherish them. They give them an extra yard or two of leniency when they make mistakes because they are desperate to see them do well.
Hughes was nicknamed ‘Sparky’ as a player. Not because of his electric personality but he chose it as a seven year old because it was the name of a kids’ comic and rhymed with Mark.
There appears to be an obsession with whispering at Southampton but Hughes is markedly different to his predecessors and this may be hopefully where Saints have got it right finally with their choice of boss.
Get close to him and while he is not tall, there is a definite sense of physical intimidation. He doesn’t mean it and it’s ever so slight. It’s in the body language as Hughes stands, four square in his suit.
He’s the sort of bloke who will be sitting quietly at the back of a bar room sipping a pint, listening to the resident show off holding court.
Next thing you know that man is on his back having picked on the wrong man. No words needed.
While this sounds almost primeval it is an aspect of Hughes’ character that players thirty years younger than him will respect.
There’s the playing pedigree of Manchester United, Barcelona, Chelsea and indeed Southampton for a spell.
Hughes doesn’t need words to communicate, he can simply stand among his squad and command their attention. It is those sorts of attributes which helped him achieve three successive top ten finishes at a club like Stoke City.
Pellegrino and Puel lacked presence, they lacked charisma and they lacked a deep knowledge and grasp of English football, its tribalism, its demands.
As one writer put it recently, whenever they read quotes from Pellegrino it made them think ‘oh, are you still here?’ With Puel you physically had to strain your ears to listen to stuff that wasn’t worth listening to anyway.
So what if he is doing ok with Leicester at the moment? The Puel effect will soon take its toll and the club will behave like it has been nipped by one giant tsetse fly, inducing a sleep like coma.
Hughes does not shout and holler but then he doesn’t need to. There’s a lingering menace behind his whispered words that can send a chill down the spine even though he is now 54.
They are old school rules but Southampton need to get back to old school beliefs.
If they don’t the club could well just slip off into The Solent and drift away. And worst of all, nobody would even notice.